Best known as a member of the Ashcan School, painter and illustrator John Sloan (1871-1951) often focused his paintings and prints on city life and its people during the early 20th century. However, between 1900 and 1910, Sloan produced a weekly series of word and picture puzzles for the Sunday supplement of the Philadelphia Press, one of the country’s leading illustrated newspapers.
The Puzzling World of John Sloan–on view for the first time June 6 – September 6, 2015–explores this little-known facet of Sloan’s early newspaper career, presenting 25 works from the Museum’s collection. The puzzles demonstrate the artist’s imagination and verbal and visual wit, as well as the fluid boundaries between fine art and newspaper illustration in the first decade of the 20th century.
University of Delaware Ph.D. student Margarita Karasoulas and Delaware Art Museum Alfred Appel, Jr., Curatorial Fellow,who conducted the research for The Puzzling World of John Sloanin the Museum’s extensive Sloan archives, combed through over 100 newspaper pages featuring Sloan’s puzzle designs to curate the exhibition. The 25 complex puzzles highlighted in the exhibition include mazes, rebuses, hidden pictures, a cryptic letter, and a delictate watercolor.
The Bang-Up Puzzle, September 14, 1902. John Sloan (1871–1951). Color tearsheet, dimensions. Delaware Art Museum, Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives, purchased from Will Shortz, 2013.
Halloween Puzzle, October 27, 1901. John Sloan (1871–1951). Watercolor, pen and ink, graphite on paper board, 22 3/8 x 22 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Gift of Helen Farr Sloan, 1981.
“Sloan’s puzzles are deceptively simple in appearance,” Karasoulas explains, “But the puzzles are conceptually challenging, incorporating hidden words or images, pictorial puns, as well as components that require cutting, pasting, folding, or rearranging.”
Delaware Art Museum, John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives © Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS),
John Sloan, “Blackbird Puzzle” (1901), commercial printing process, 22 5/8 × 17 3/4 inches (courtesy Delaware Art Museum, John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives, © Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)
At the turn of the 20th century, puzzles commanded the attention of readers nationwide. Competing publications engaged in fierce circulation wars, luring customers with eye-catching visual effects, colored comics, and assorted games and activities. By the middle of the decade, puzzles appeared in virtually every national newspaper, and puzzles remain regular fixtures of the Sunday paper even to this day.
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